Rental relief demand prompts Port Angeles council action

PORT ANGELES — Demand for the city’s COVID-19 rental relief program has outpaced supply, prompting the Port Angeles City Council to transfer $37,000 and waive interest on accounts receivable through June.

The City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to pass a resolution ratifying City Manager Nathan West’s May 12 emergency order to reallocate additional funding for economic relief to city residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

The city’s COVID-19 relief program began with $250,000 in general fund contingency funds to provide utility bill relief for residents and businesses, and $50,000 in sales tax revenue for residential rental assistance.

“Unfortunately, we have had a very high demand for rental relief assistance through our utility customer service, and numerous applications have come in to the point that early last week we had run out of funding for rental assistance relief,” West told the council Tuesday.

“Recognizing that we were almost out of funding the prior week, staff began to work with the state Department of Commerce to see if Community Development Block Grant income could be re-allocated for that purpose.”

On May 12, the city transferred $37,000 in uncommitted Community Development Block Grant funding to the rental relief program.

Applications for rental relief and utility bill assistance are available on the city’s website, www.cityofpa.us.

“I just want to say thank you to staff for being vigilant and considering this option and being innovative,” council member LaTrisha Suggs said during a three-hour virtual meeting.

The council declared an emergency for COVID-19 in March, directing staff to provide “legal and reasonable” utility bill relief. The interest waiver on all accounts was extended Tuesday to June 30.

City officials said they would make utility payment arrangements with customers rather than disconnect utilities during the public health emergency.

In other COVID-19-related action Tuesday, the council adopted a policy for the use of federal Cares Act Community Development Block Grant funding.

The state Department of Commerce will disburse about $3 million in Cares Act funding to counties and $4 million to cities, Port Angeles Community and Economic Development Director Allyson Brekke said Tuesday.

According to the newly adopted council policy, the city of Port Angeles will use Cares Act funding in the following ways:

• Assistance to microenterprise businesses employing five or fewer low- to moderate-income individuals.

• Rental housing assistance for low- to moderate-income households

• Mortgage housing assistance for low- to moderate-income households.

• Other uses to benefit Port Angeles’ low- to moderate-income individuals deemed eligible under the federal program.

“We have received additional information that’s indicating that there are certainly strings attached to this funding, unfortunately,” Brekke told the council Tuesday.

“We are in current conversations with Clallam County and the cities of Sequim and Forks, and we are discussing the idea of a consortium application approach with the idea right now that the city of Port Angeles would be the ones that would be administrating that.”

Council member Mike French suggested the council consider using an application that gauges the impact of COVID-19 on individuals and households.

“When you have a small amount of money, you’re going to run out of funds, and we don’t want the people that don’t need it to gobble it all up before it gets to the people that need it,” French said.

Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said there was a “delicate balance” between a robust application and commitment of city staff time.

“I’m very concerned about creating a process that would be too hard for people to get the cash assistance they need now,” Schromen-Wawrin said

“And so, in a way, it means that there’s risk that somebody who’s not in as much need might get the money.

“But we know as a community that keeping people in their homes is one of the most cost-effective things we can do during this crisis,” Schromen-Wawrin added.

After a lengthy discussion, the council agreed to adopt the policy as proposed.

“There certainly is another opportunity to hone in on what the application looks like if we want to do that,” Mayor Kate Dexter said.

“The details of the application, I think, should be left up to staff with some framework from council.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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